The horizon is not so far as we can see, but as far as we can imagine

I’m Just Embarrassed For Humanity At This Point

I was thinking today about China giving up on Zero Covid. They were responding to significant public protests. The CCP isn’t democratic by our standards, but they actually care a great deal about public opinion, especially “expressed” public opinion.

What’s embarrassing, however, is the failure to spend the two years Zero-Covid bought fixing infrastructure. We know, at this point, that ventilation, HEPA filtering and UV radiation work. (This is what the rich gave themselves at Davos, so don’t waste anyone’s time arguing.)

There was a time, basically in the Victorian era, where we rebuilt all of the water infrastructure because we had finally got it thru our thick skulls that disease spread thru water. We did it, and it made a huge difference.

I think particularly of China because no other major country even really tried. China had the time, and they have the industrial resources to do what is necessary (also, refit buildings with water traps, those little u-bends you see  under your sink or by your toilet.) They’re the largest manufacturing nation in the world, and they had spare housing workers hanging around.

Clean the air flow in buildings. Even just putting a HEPA filter in a classroom, without any other changes, drops Covid massively.

Now, this is a symptom of a larger problem. We have known about climate change for decades. The science was clear and known to the educated public by the late 70s, before there was a huge push for climate denialism backed by big money. There were some obvious easy solutions that amounted to “change infrastructure to use less energy.” Every building in developed country could have been made to use vastly less energy, and since we had an unemployment crisis combined with an energy crisis, it would have been the obvious right thing to do. Instead we did demand restriction through wage suppression, which had the side-benefit of making the rich a lot richer.

It has remained the right thing to do for decades. AOC’s New Green Deal is just a version of what everyone with sense has known needed to be done. I put out a similar plan first in the early 2000s at BOPNews, but I was nowhere near the first.

This is just embarrassing. We know what’s wrong, we know how to do some of the major steps required to fix it and we don’t do anything. Zero Covid was, on top of that run incompetently (but China gets points for at least trying till they gave up.)

Embarrassing. I’m just embarrassed for our leadership, who are psychopathic morons, even the ones who sometimes try to do the right thing, and I’m embarrassed or humanity, given how human social dynamics lead to such terrible leadership, over and over. Periods with competent leadership are rare, those where the leadership is both competent and non-psychopathic rarer still (in the US, this period in the 20th century arguably only exists for the period where FDR was in charge, and was marred even then by the sad fact that he was racist, particularly against Japanese (ironically because he liked the Chinese.) Truman, despite his good reputation, was a disaster.)

But this is a human problem which has gone on for about eight thousand years, and maybe longer.

The entire shit-show is just embarrassing and pathetic.

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Britain Stops Making Vaccine Available (But the Rich Will Still Get It)


Open Thread


  1. anon y'mouse

    i grew up in an extended family situation where the sensation of being “embarrassed/ashamed of” is quite familiar.

    they weren’t stupid people. actually, being stupid was a reason for total mockery and discounting such that those who were got treated much differently. but these smart people could never get it together to do the right thing in the right circumstances, either morally or just using common sense about how to improve their and everyone’s situation. and they were poor, so they had a lot of common sense.

    i finally decided it was because they hated each other too much to cooperate, and had a very social darwinist, individualistic “you sink or swim on your own and don’t ask for help from us” mentality.

    decades later, a relative of the previous generation asked me why none of my generation had achieved professional designations (“why didn’t any of you become doctors or lawyers? none of you are dumb.”). it was grim but hilarious because none of the people in his generation (the parents) supported those kids in any way other than to give them food and a roof until 18 (if that!) and then to turf them out immediately into the deindustrializing world with only a very pathetic public school education.

    i remember not having enough to pay my$600 rent in a boarding house, my $175 orthodontist bill, my phone bill and have enough to eat in my fridge til the end of the month. that was all during my twenties. when and where was i going to get the money for school when i didn’t have it for a car, books or anything else? and yet this person expected me to become a doctor. he never once showed up on my doorstep with any assistance to become such a thing, and yet wanted to know why i did not magically “achieve” because i guess smarts (of some limited kind, such as i have) just automatically make you able to wrangle success out of the world, regardless of how the world doesn’t have enough success to go around and how ruthless you have to be to get any (none of us has the ruthless gene, just the mocking, deflating humorous gene).

    this long tale is a key, maybe. we could do things, but we hate each other too much to help each other succeed, and perhaps lots of that is driven by jealousy and self contempt disguised with a “but i have to take care of myself and mine, with nothing extra for helping you. everyone has to make it on their own just like i am doing” attitude.

    capitalism is a religio-moral system that isn’t helping these tendencies. it leaves everyone not rich too poor to do what would make sense, and fighting each other over the scraps too much to cooperate even if they did have the resources.

    and those who wield capitalism as a weapon like and want it that way.

  2. GrimJim

    After studying humanity in the academic as well as informal spheres for some 40 years, I’m convinced the species is nothing more than naked apes with delusions of grandeur. All the technological “advances” aside, humans are just little more than apes screaming at each other across the river, flinging feces.

    There is no real mystery why humans have never been contacted by aliens. The peaceful ones want nothing doing, and the not so peaceful ones can find plenty of untainted, non-poisoned resources elsewhere with far less trouble.

    The Fermi Paradox solution in which a species causes its own extinction before it can reach the stars is a very human thing. The species as a whole has a death wish. The psychopathic leadership is nuts, and their willing followers are just plain stupid.

  3. Willy

    My nephew is treating his son far worse than I ever would my own, had I chosen to have kids. The primary difference between us is that my nephew was spoiled and I was emotionally abused. He’s used to getting whatever he wanted without much pushback, and so isn’t used to normal toddlers doing normal toddler pushback things.

    I can only imagine the rot that happens when one is extremely rich and powerful surrounded by sycophantic yes men. People were evolved to be checked and balanced and not to live apart and isolated in some ivory billionaire’s row tower. I’m even starting to think that being insanely rich causes insanity. I wouldn’t care, if they didn’t impact my own life so profoundly. They don’t experience any of the character-building events which help create normal, civilized thinking. And so their levels of humility and empathy atrophy (assuming they weren’t psychopathic to begin with).

    Now on scale much smaller than advising Chinese leadership about covid policies, how could I successfully advise my nephew? Maybe the best answer to that little problem could then be scaled up to the international covid problem.

  4. NR

    Not much I can disagree with here. I think a big part of the issue is that humans did not evolve to live in large societies like we do today, and we are terrible at it. Homo sapiens lived in small tribes/bands for two hundred thousand years, and our brains are still wired for that. They don’t do well for large societies, and our sense of identity and belonging to a group is far too easily manipulated on a larger scale.

    And this may very well prove to be our undoing.

  5. Some Guy

    We’ll make great pets.

  6. Art

    It is the nature of humanity. The new and novel risk is overestimated and the chronic risk is underappreciated. Churchill was quoted as saying: ‘Americans always do the right thing, but only after trying everything else’.

    My impression is that the Chinese simply don’t care about potentially losing millions of people. As long as the party or elites don’t get blamed it is all good. Lots of that going around.

    After watching some sailors waste money and destroy equipment half-assing a job I asked my father, an officer, if that sort of gross negligence meant we would lose a war with the USSR. This was the late 60s. He laughed and told me the Russians were worse. We are seeing it in Ukraine.

    We know what to do, and how to do it, and we have the resources. And yet, we (humanity) simply can’t get it done.

  7. Jessica

    Ian, I think that you are labelling as pathetic something that does not exist yet. That non-existence is a root problem, perhaps the root problem.
    What does not exist is humanity as a subject, conscious of itself. What we have is fragments of society, which cooperate with and strive against each other. Some claim to speak for all of humanity. None do.
    Worse, the most dominant fragments devote a good portion of their power (and other people’s work) to muddying both individual minds and any collective discussion. This makes any emergence of a conscious human race far more difficult.
    I don’t think the dominant fragments are consciously trying to block the emergence of a conscious human race. They just have an instinctive aversion to truth and the search for truth.

  8. Some Guy

    Oryx and Crake was Margaret Atwood’s attempt at a utopian novel.

  9. mago

    @Some Guy.
    Atwood & the utopian novel.
    Who claims credit for the best dystopian novel?

  10. Trinity


    Although, there’s evidence that Eleanor had something to do with shaping policy during FDRs time in office. But also, being confined to a wheelchair must lend a different perspective of the world, too.

    The main problem is that the people who know what to do have no power, by design. Or, as Caitlin Johnstone reminds us, we don’t recognize, exercise, or even acknowledge the power we do have.

    Too often, and I’ve seen it in my own and other families, the cray cray gets passed down, deliberately. My mother literally groomed and prepped her replacements, teaching them how to off put uncomfortable feelings onto the handiest undesirable (usually me). In this way, they never have to feel the bad feelings at all, they merely blame/shame whoever is powerless (chosen specifically for that purpose). She also made sure everyone knew who the powerless were, the “correct” targets. This inter generational thing is also a significant part of the problem.

    One could correctly say that my life’s journey has also been to (finally!) recognize and start wielding my own personal power.

    “perhaps lots of that is driven by jealousy and self contempt”

    Agree. The narcissists I know will tell you they are perfect in every way, which is to say they are covering their shame with a construct, a fake narrative to cling to in order to feel good about themselves despite their often very bad behavior. Anything that threatens that construct must be eliminated, so they put others down in order to elevate themselves and the fake narrative. (That’s the narcissists; the true sociopaths also think they are perfect but don’t care what anyone else thinks.)

    That is what we live in now, a construct, a fake world designed and created by insane people. Well, truthfully, I’ve lived in one my entire life so maybe that’s why it’s been easier for me to recognize this larger one.

    Two words: ice floes.

  11. Eric Anderson

    I was talking similarly with my wife just last night.
    My particular embarrassment was that we just can’t stop reproducing. All these things of which you speak Ian, are easily solved by a 1 child policy for a few decades.
    Viruses, for example, thrive and spread in dense populations. Was listening to a piece yesterday talking about avian flu. Almost 70 million domesticated birds dead in one year in the U.S. alone. Not to mention all the wild birds it’s impacting. We cage them in impossibly tight and unsanitary conditions and think we can get around it by pumping them full of drugs.

    Extend the analogy to humans. We are creating the same conditions for ourselves, and by extension, must raise of food in these conditions just to keep up with our exploding population.

    Climate change? Same thing. Too many #$%^ ing humans.
    But nobody says a thing. It’s like the concept is beyond human comprehension. Talk to people about it and it’s like you’re asking them to imagine a new color.

    I too am literally embarrassed for humanity that the answer is so GD obvious but everyone, Ev.Re.One. is completely blind (or mute) to the stupidly simple solution.

    I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again — I pray with all my heart and bones that Covid takes on a mutation that impacts fertility.

  12. Eric Anderson


    I just tooted the root problem over at Mastodon after linking this post over there.

    “#Capitalism more virulent than #COVID19
    It’s a disease of the mind closely analogous to chronic wasting disease.”

    Worried about covid? Why? If we don’t check capitalism it’ll take us out way more efficiently in the end. Covid is just a symptom of the larger disease.

    Should I need to elucidate further I’d probably be wasting my time.

  13. Eric Anderson

    @Grim Jim & NR:

    I had a social-psych professor once describe the human mind as a glorified simplification machine. We were studying heuristics when he said it. And you guys are both largely right from different angles. Our fundamental evolutionary strength was the ability to develop heuristic short cuts that worked great when we were first climbing out of trees. It’s been our achilles heel ever since we began congregating in city states. It’s only grown worse as we’ve grown into nation states. Our heuristic employing brains just don’t do complexity of the scale we’ve come to accept as the norm today.

    Most people simply can’t grok what’s going on around them because they don’t care enough to train their brains to deal with complexity and break out of the black and white thinking that is the hallmark of the rudimentary oversimplifying brain.

  14. Ché Pasa

    Interesting discussion. Ian’s embarrassment is shared, I wish it was widely and for the same reasons, but I suspect that the diversity of opinion — of the cause of the embarrassment — prevents that.

    It would be satisfying if we the faction who knows what’s gone wrong and what to do about it had the power to implement the changes needed. But we don’t. Those who do have the power seem intent on destroying what’s been built by ourselves and our ancestors *who also — sometimes — knew what to do and did it* and replacing it with… nothing.

    But at the same time seeing to it that their own comfort and conveninence is never disrupted in the least.

    “Disruption for thee, but not for me. Suckers!”

    Those who know what’s wrong and what to do about it have not been able to penetrate that bubble, so far no matter what we/they do.

    You see this stark division between those who wield power and the powerless in the family dynamic stories shared by the commentariat. There’s no bridging the gap, no matter what.

    That’s the pattern. Not universal, not by any means, but too common. And it forms the dynamic of the global dysfunctional society. With China’s yielding to Covid, there’s no one left to carry the tattered banner of, shall we say, “progress.”

    Those who carried it back in the day got many things wrong, badly wrong, just as the Chinese leadership has done — Mao and Jiang Qing being stunning examples thereof —
    at least they had a vision of the betterment of all. That vision is lacking in our current crises.

    So we careen from one disaster to another. For our overlords, it’s all good because none of it affects them in any perceptible way. From their point of view, none of it can affect them more than slightly… ever. We’d like to think they’re wrong, but for now and the foreseeable future, they aren’t.

    Of course the whole system can be overthrown,. When? How? By whom? To what object? These questions are barely being asked.

  15. GlassHammer

    “but we hate each other too much to help each other”
    -anon y’mouse

    In my experience it is not “hate” that shatters cooperation but “selfishness” and “laziness”. It’s not wanting to do anything that doesn’t benefit yourself (with the benefit coming instantaneously) and not wanting to be uncomfortable or tired in order to accomplish something.

    This “selfishness” and “laziness” stems from the lack of a grand story to believe in. In the absence of that grand story “I do what feels good to me” becomes the main motivator for human action. And “I do what feels good to me” just can’t solve much of anything.

  16. Trinity


    “Covid takes on a mutation that impacts fertility.”

    Afaik, it already does impact the reproductive system, if we can trust any resources on this subject. Menses is one that I’ve read about, but that’s a clearly known and visible, expected cyclical process. The only way we will know about less visible processes is if there is profit to be made.

    I had been thinking about population after reading about the effect of Covid on reproductive systems. Basically, the time to do something about overpopulation was a long time ago. Capitalism seeks to profit from the entire lifecycle, birth to death and everything in between. That focus (increasing consumerism) is exactly how we ended up in our current situation. They wanted bigger markets. Now, they seem to be focused on playing games with other people’s money.

    I don’t like the idea of blaming our brains. Maybe the brains of the insane, but mine (and many, many other brains here) seem to be working just fine. Considering the intense brainwashing we are subjected to, it’s a wonder.

  17. bruce wilder

    People are capable of developing complex skills and applying those skills cooperatively in fairly large-scale enterprises, economic and scientific. Those accomplishments are numerous and make the failures of collective comprehension regarding general political governance the more puzzling.

    I am not much impressed by fatuous remarks regarding the evils of capitalism — reifying capitalism is an example of oversimplification blockading thought or action, not an insight or solution.

    The social expression of ambivalence in political attitudes and opinions – the occasion for so much pointless dispute and alienation from others – might have something to do with it, alongside the human penchant to “cheat the system” or “game” any set of governing rules. Humans are perhaps better (capable of developing greater skill from deep investment of effort) at cheating at cards than playing cards. There are people who have invested as much as a decade of effort in controlling the shuffle of cards so precisely that they can deal any combination without detection – it is amazing and frightening.

    The repression of finance improves economic outcomes in part by paying bankers and financial managers much less, so that smart people are not attracted to “the game”. In some areas of social cooperation, dull and stolid governs best. And, that doesn’t even consider the rebellious, the reckless, and the indifferent.

    I do not agree with the rhetorical trope, “we know what to do” with regard to climate change or much else of consequence. Figuring out what to do in all its practical detail would be an enormous intellectual challenge, re-engineering the whole political economy and society and culture, delving into aspects of human nature and society no one yet understands. Maybe we should know we should do that, make a serious effort. But, I submit most people not only are not able to identify a good leader or bad, but have grave difficulty distinguishing knowledge garnished as it must be with doubt from confident b.s. We live in a b.s. culture where people simply do not care what is “true” or “false” in matters as grave as public health or war and peace. If it is a good and satisfying story, effective in manipulating public opinion, go with it. ChatGPT, automated b.s. with no assurance of accurate or provable assertion, is greeted as the singularity that changes everything. What AI in this form is, is a mirror that shows us how little substance there is in our accumulated cultural verbiage and performative “expertise”.

  18. Willy

    We’ll make great pets.

    Been tried many times before, by humans, with the results varying wildly. Suleiman “the Magnificent” did make Roxelana his pampered fave, but then a lot of guys in his harem had to be eunuchs. Maybe they meant being owned by a species of empathic little squashy guys, like out of E.T.?

    hallmark of the rudimentary oversimplifying brain

    Most people have a need for cognitive closure which only increases with stress. That’d explain stuff like Qanon and our conservative evangelical batshittery. I don’t think that intelligence is about synapses or brain size but is emotionally based. IOW, it’s easier for smart people to want to be smart. I once asked one of these smart people, my cousin, who’d typically launch himself at some big book in the morning and finish by lunch, why he didn’t want to become President. He replied: “That job’s so big you’d have to be crazy to want to do it!” So maybe there’s emotional reasons why people want so much power.

  19. Willy

    People are capable of developing complex skills and applying those skills cooperatively in fairly large-scale enterprises, economic and scientific. Those accomplishments are numerous and make the failures of collective comprehension regarding general political governance the more puzzling.

    I don’t trust doctors, auto mechanics, or aerospace companies. At least not since most doctors, auto mechanics, or aerospace companies came to be run by MBAs and\or prevailing MBA philosophies. Sure, a competent MBA can make any enterprise more profitable in the short term. But allowing them and their prevailing philosophies to dominate an enterprise has been well proven to lead to dysfunction if not ruin. Maybe there’s a science behind all that which the doctors, auto mechanics or aerospace company employees and customers can force their MBAs to get behind?

    General political governance isn’t all that puzzling. One day Kirsten Sinema is a social worker in sneakers, the next she’s a corporate whore dressing in Prada. What’s so puzzling about that?

  20. Eric Anderson

    You’ve been around here for quite some time now.
    I generally consider anyone who’s a regular reader of Ian’s to “care enough to train their brains to deal with complexity and break out of the black and white thinking that is the hallmark of the rudimentary oversimplifying brain.” Exceptions proving the general rule, and I would imagine if I ever had the opportunity to meet the commentariat here I’d wager we’re all pretty exceptional humans.

    People don’t seem to hang around this blog for long if they don’t have a driving sense of curiosity about the way the world works and motivation to try and make it work better.

    @Willy: “That job’s so big you’d have to be crazy to want to do it!”
    Exactly. Just see the line from Yeats “Second Coming.”

    ” … The best lack all conviction, while the worst
    Are full of passionate intensity.”

    The best lack all conviction because they doubt themselves. They’re intelligent enough ascertain what they truly know vs. what they don’t and proceed with caution. Whereas, the worst are full of passionate intensity because they see the world in suck black and white terms. Assured they’re right, they passionately blunder headlong into endeavors they can’t understand the complexity of until they realize they’ve failed.

    Trump easily comes to mind as the worst of us at the world stage level. Jefferson being a good example of the best. It’s why reluctant heroes hold such sway over our imagination. You have to not want to take on a task of unimaginable scope to actually be competent at it.

  21. VietnamVet

    It is my old age and being human, but things keep rhyming. Humans are great apes who evolved for long-distance two-legged pack hunting with hairless sweat for heat dissipation and opposable thumbs to slaughter and butcher prey and pick fruit. Most likely in the caves on the South African coast while fishing, foraging and hunting for food, we learned to talk, plan and cooperate. The rise of consciousness and human graves are only 100,000 years old in a million plus years genealogy. Genetically modern humans are all offspring of forty to a thousand breeding pairs of humans in 70,000 B.C. at the time of the Toba Super-volcano eruption. It is genetically ingrained in homo sapiens to seize resources, women and children from the others on the opposite side of the mountains but also to love those in one’s tribe. Denial of the unpleasant is an intrinsic human trait.

    Shooting down China’s spy balloon reminds me the U-2 incident but this time the USA is playing the role of the Soviet Union. The Russian Federation is replaying WWI once again. Without a Korean type Armistice to forestall a nuclear war, one side or the other will collapse from the Ukraine proxy world war like the Russian revolt in 1917.

    Neoliberal corporate states are simply incapable of winning wars, educating the public, or keeping their people healthy. By letting coronavirus rip through China, this proves that the communist party is not significantly different than the USA democrat/republican party. Only a growing economy matters. The whole world is run by autocrats getting rich and damning everyone else.

    The only proven alternative are democratic national republics run by and for the people. Otherwise, annihilation that keeps nipping at our heels, since like forever, will finally end human occupation of earth.

  22. Eric Anderson

    anon y’mouse:

    “but i have to take care of myself and mine, with nothing extra for helping you.”

    My wife and I were further talking about the one-child policy more today that I discussed above. I had two older sisters. She had a younger sister and an older brother. She brought up that one negative aspect of the one-child policy would be the lack of having the sibling bonds that she shares today. Apparently she got along with her siblings.

    I didn’t really. Older sister was too much older, and middle sister teased mercilessly. Dad was a drunk suffering ptsd from 2 tours in Viet Nam, and Mom it turns out was a horrible enabler (though it did shield me from much of my Dad’s brutality).

    To your point: I responded to her observation that no children would know the difference in one short decade. And that from my experience, you can choose your friends but not your family. I also wondered if there were any anthropological research out there studying the collective v. atomistic impact on societies depending on how important the nuclear family is to said societies.

    i) Parents have more quality time/resources to spend one child during it’s early formative years.
    ii) Parents in this situation are less stressed themselves and less apt to employ harsh parenting practices.
    iii) By the time the child is ready to detach, the child is forced to create stronger social bonds with non-nuclear members of society, and has less baggage as a result of being an only child.

    Thesis: A one child society is a more socially cohesive and collective society.

  23. multitude of poors

    as regards that one child per family policy, supported above, in China it resulted in a ghastly disparity between biological females and males, as biological males were far preferred than females. India has the same ghastly disparity. Outside of a preference for male children, I’m not entirely clear on why that is also so stark a reality in India (to my knowledge they don’t have a one child per family policy), but it is the reality in India also. The disparity has been imported to Silicon Valley California, for quite some time now. E.g. San Jose Metro area (Silicon Valley) has been nick named Man Jose for well over a decade now, for that reason, among others (e.g. huge wage and hiring disparity).

    gotta really run ….

  24. someofparts

    God: I created a human.

    Angel: Well, yeah, but all you did was ruin a perfectly good monkey.

  25. marku52

    I don’t get why Bruce disregards “Fatuous comments about capitalism”.
    Capitalism-by design-selects/rewards psychopaths who destroy their environment, be it cultural, economic, or environmental.

    He who reaches any resource first-and strip mines it- wins.

  26. Eric Anderson

    Not policy, preference. And if I said policy above that’s my mistake. And, if there’s one thing we’ve become fairly adept at in the policy avoidant realm of the U.S. and “individual rights” driven western nations, it is “incentivizing” behavior. One way of incentivizing behavior is through messaging. And, as I recently posted over on Mastodon:

    “In an overpopulated world, failing to voluntarily limit your family to ≤ 2 children is tantamount to #ChildAbuse.
    It’s “their” world we’re choosing to destroy because we lack restraint.”

    Equating having more children than replacement rate as “child abuse” gives pretty good incentive not to be labeled a child abuser.

    And, we do know how to incentive reproductive behavior in the U.S.
    We pay people to have MORE children through the child tax credit. Yes, we’re paying people to destroy the planet for the very children we’re encouraging them to have — so billionaires can continue having a cheap labor source.

    And to all the boo hoo over the impact of said “policies” of the past … please stop to consider the impact of cooking our children alive in a biosphere no longer habitable by humans. #FalseEquivalence

  27. anon y'mouse

    the only ones trying to “reify” capitalism are those who believe in its tenets (it’s a religio-moral belief system). every time they behave as though those “laws” are what governs the world, they force the world to adhere to them. and the believers are the ones who benefit most, of course so they have the power to make everyone dance to that tune.

    many of those rules have become a fact of social life that the rest of us must try to cope with. ideas such as “everything must be turned to account (profit) for the benefit of me and mine”, including land, wildlife, and people. things that do not turn themselves to account must be turfed out, or rendered down until they do.”

    of course, the ideas predate formal “capitalism” and especially industrial and post-industrial capitalism.

    this is how you get a world where people caution each other not to date an individual with a low FICO score, much less marry one.

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